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Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, il Guercino (1591-1666)
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, il Guercino (1591-1666)

The Finding of the True Cross

Details
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, il Guercino (1591-1666)
The Finding of the True Cross
pen and brown ink, brown wash, the corners made up
289 x 201 mm.
Provenance
Comte Mestral de Saint Saphorin, his (?) mount, attribution 'Guercino' and number '12'

Lot Essay

An early study for The Finding of the True Cross (fig. 1) painted for the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti in Venice and delivered in 1644, D.M. Stone, Guercino, Florence, 1991, no. 189. The picture is mentioned in Guercino's Libro dei Conti which gives the date as 5 March 1644 and the price as 625 Bolognese scudi, or 2,500 Lire.
Guercino executed a large series of preparatory drawings for the composition. As Sir Denis Mahon and Nicholas Turner point out, the earlier sketches such as this one included not only the discovery of the Cross but also the proof that it was genuine: the miraculous resurrection of a dead person who touched by it, D. Mahon and N. Turner, The Drawings of Guercino in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 63-4. Two of the earliest drawings for the composition (fig. 2), showing the Resurrection and inverting the final composition, are at Windsor Castle, Sir Denis Mahon and N. Turner, op. cit., nos. 110-1, figs. 115-6. Another drawing executed at the same stage as the Windsor drawings is in National Museum, Poznan, Poland, T. Zuchowski, Between Renaissance and Classicism, European Master's Drawings from the Collection on the National Museum in Poznan, Poznan, 1995, no. 27.
The present drawing, while showing the composition in the same direction as the picture, retains a depiction of the Resurrection of the Dead. The next drawing in the sequence, from the A.G.B. Russell collection, is the closest to the final composition. The resurrected figure has disappeared, and Saint Helen is shown adoring the Cross rather than in prayer, A.G.B. Russell, Drawings by Guercino, London, 1923, pl. III. Two other studies for the figure of Saint Helen exist: one of the Saint half-length, formerly in the Rudolf collection (D.M. Stone, Guercino, Master Draftsman, exhib. cat., Cambridge, Arthur M. Sackler Museum and elsewhere, 1991, no. 173, pl. D.), and another of the Saint with two other figures in the Frits Lugt Collection in Paris, J. Byam Shaw, The Italian Drawings of the Frits Lugt Collection, Paris, 1983, no. 353, pl. 393. The last drawing is very close to the three figures in the picture.
Sir Denis Mahon has kindly confirmed the attribution to Guercino.
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